In Middle Eastern culture, so much happens at the dinner table. Small plate after small plate arrives as a vast array of flavours are shared and mixed and picked at, and a lunch can stretch out for hour after hour in unhurried fashion. And while no one’s eating at Beirut’s latest club, Ballroom Blitz, tonight, that mixing of flavours is something the owners seem to have taken to heart.
The club opened last year, and this is the first night of what they’re calling ’Season 2’. “I love electronic music,” explains owner Joe Mourani, “so obviously I look around and take in what I like at different clubs and then start to decant my inspiration.”
Joe, along with musical director Mo Choucair, have decanted their inspirations into an old textile factory near the Port of Beirut, its three rooms each with their own distinct flavour and purpose. Entering through The Lobby, we find a local resident spinning groove-filled house music in a part covered, part open air space. The booth is slap-bang in the middle of the floor, enveloped by the crowd on all sides. “This was originally meant to be a quiet area where people came and got their first drink,” explains Joe, “but it’s turned into a great party area where the music’s housey and funky.”
Funnelling our way deeper into the venue, we zig-zag though a corridor that’s been fully soundproofed with walled carpeting to eliminate any bleed of sound from one area to the next. It takes us to a crossroads with a space off to either side. “Everything’s quite close together,” says Joe, “so when you move from room to room your brain doesn’t have time to adapt and you get the shock of the new music. It’s quite intense.”
To the right is the Ballroom, the club’s de facto main room. It’s a mid-sized rectangular space perfectly suited to the heads-down pounding techno that will fill it later. To the left is the Gold Room, secondary in size but central to everything the Ballroom Blitz crew do. “The Gold Room is really the heart of the project,” explains Joe. “It’s the place where we dare to experiment with new music.” Small and square, the only lighting coming from several rows of gold light bulbs behind the DJ booth, it’s a deceptively simple space – but nothing has been left to chance. The room has been acoustically treated in a way usually reserved for some of the world’s best studios and – despite the focus being very much on the dancefloor – it has a similar feel to an upmarket listening bar, the emphasis placed on creating the best sensory experience for the music.
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While Ballroom Blitz has brought in the likes of DVS1 and Nastia since opening, its focus is largely on nurturing new local talent and introducing a more experimental and downtempo style of techno not favoured in the city before, one perfectly suited to the all-encompassing nature of the system in the Gold Room. “A lot of people didn’t like that energy to start with, they wanted that extra kick or drum,” explains Joe. “But Moe, our music director, has pushed that sound – and people have come round to it.”
After a warm up by local DJ Whale, Berlin’s O/Y takes over the Gold Room with a slow-building live set of experimental electronica. Like a chugging DJ Harvey disco set, it slowly elicits a sense of elation, despite being not much over the 100 BPM mark.
While the warm-up is integral to any club, the difference between the tempo early on at Ballroom Blitz to the early hours when Laurel Halo takes centre stage in the Ballroom to bang out a few hours of glass-shattering, experimental techno is stark – and one of the many reasons that makes this a club you’re happy to hang around in for the long haul.
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Beirut has long been the party capital of the Middle East thanks to its generally more liberal outlook compared to the rest of the region. But at Ballroom Blitz the focus goes far beyond hedonism. It’s about building a sustainable scene that brings through local talent, while keeping prices at a level that encourages new people through the door –particularly those who might have been excluded from clubbing in the city before because of cost.
“The easiest thing is to pay huge artists big money,” Joe explains. “But we have a lot of talented artists in Lebanon and we think they’re underestimated. We want to promote that local scene.”
Sean Griffiths is Mixmag's Deputy Editor, follow him on Twitter
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